Penobscot Marine Museum has opened a virtual museum — an online visual database to make its collections available to anyone, anywhere. Access to the database is free and no registration is required. Only a web browser is needed to view information and photographs of New England and elsewhere, many more than 100 years old. The database may be accessed via the museum’s website at PenobscotMarineMuseum.org.

In Penobscot Marine Museum’s 75th year, it has created a new “museum without walls” that enables people everywhere to explore its collections for research, education or just plain fun, said executive director Liz Lodge.

“It’s an extraordinary achievement for a small regional museum, one that will boost our stature nationally and worldwide,” Lodge said.

More than 45,000 records are online, almost 29,000 of them with photographs. The records are from six of the museum’s collections of historic photographs, dating from the 1880s to the 1950s. Most of the photos are of Maine scenes, but there also are images from other New England and East Coast states, China and the Caribbean. More records will be added in the coming weeks.

The goal is to have all of the museum’s collections online, said Ben Fuller, the museum’s curator, adding that the effort to place the collections online has taken a group of volunteers and staff over five years.

“We are almost ready to upload another 30,000 photo records with images, and the museum’s artifact collection will follow as time and money permit,” Fuller said.

A museum is no longer just a place to store and display artifacts; it is a resource for gathering and distributing information and knowledge, said Fuller. The database has a feedback feature that allows users to comment on images and add information.

“By making our artifacts and historic records available online, Penobscot Marine Museum is providing a resource that’s free and available to all,” Fuller said.

Collections now online in the database are as follows. The Atlantic Fisherman Collection offers photographs from the fishing industry’s most important newspaper, from 1919 to the 1950s. The Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Co. Collection from the postcard publisher, based in Belfast, that took tens of thousands of photographs throughout New England and upstate New York from 1909 into the 1950s, concentrating mainly on small towns. The Joanna Colcord and Ruth Montgomery collections come from two sea captains’ daughters who went to sea and took hundreds of photographs documenting life on sailing ships in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Elmer Montgomery and Charles Coombs collections offers images by two photographers from the Penobscot Bay region of Maine who recorded their towns and neighborhoods, including social gatherings, waterfront scenes and architecture.

In addition to conducting research or browsing old photos for fun, users may order prints of photographic images through the website and request licensing or permission for commercial uses.

Located on Route 1 between Camden, Bangor, and Bar Harbor, Penobscot Marine Museum is Maine’s first and oldest maritime museum and home to outstanding collections of marine art and artifacts, small craft, ship models and historic photography. For more information, call 548-2529 or visit the website.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to dernest@villagesoup.com.